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Renosto, Paolo

(October 10, 1935 - February 10, 1988)

Paolo Renosto was born in Florence and began his musical career in the later 1950's. He thus cannot be identified in a clear-cut way with any single generation of composers.
The generation which had actively promoted the New Music in Italy - Bruno Maderna, Luigi Nono, Luciano Berio and Aldo Clementi - was born ten years before Renosto, with the exception of the younger Bussotti and Castiglioni, whose destinies were nonetheless closely tied to the older generation. Renosto, on the other hand, was compelled not so much to proceed in a different direction, but rather to work within a cultural context which he had in no way helped to shape. One cannot say that he rejected this context, yet there is clearly a considerable difference between the role of a composer who boldly opens up new paths and that of one who simply follows in the footsteps of others. And indeed the essence of Renosto's work can be found in the subtly expressed uneasiness about the fixed schemes of the earlier generation.

It is also worth remembering that his musical education took place in a very particular cultural context which was profoundly assimilated by the composer over a number of years. Paolo Renosto was what one could call a naturally gifted musician. He was a good pianist and possessed a lively intelligence capable of assimilating a variety of stimuli, which were nonetheless filtered by a highly discriminating critical sense.

At the Florence Conservatory he studied composition with Roberto Lupi, a teacher whose considerable influence still has not been fully appreciated. He naturally took part in the famous meetings held in the lecture room of Luigi Dallapiccola, where he was first drawn towards that central European culture, with its expressionistic overtones, which was to remain one of  his principal sources of  inspiration.
Lupi's teaching and the influence of  Dallapiccola thus represented, respectively, the concrete tools of his craft and the idealism of noble cultural aspirations. Renosto was later to be influenced in a no less fundamental way by Bruno Maderna, who was his teacher, friend and estimator.

The desire and need for information led Renosto to adhere to the great cultural movements of the late-Fifties and Sixties, including Structuralism - which was to be quickly abandoned. And this constant shifting of direction in relation to the prevailing cultural schemes was Renosto's way of experimenting with his own inner contradictions and those of his epoch.
He was capable of following the trends of  his age, and of composing splendidly constructed scores such as Scops for viola and orchestra (1965-1966), Nacht for orchestra (1968), Du côté sensible for eleven solo strings (1966-1967), or the refined Nachtblau for clarinet and strings (1974), yet beneath the impeccable professionalism one was always aware of his continued attraction to those expressionist forms which had been revealed to him many years earlier during the lesson-conversations with Dallapiccola.

In those years it was not easy for a musician to be entirely himself. Indeed it has probably never been easy, but there are certain periods in history in which the uneasiness becomes more acute. Paolo Renosto happened to live in one of those periods: he was cultivated, intelligent and extremely well-informed, yet he would never have borne being an imitator or a conformist. His solid craftsmanship and considerable learning served as an antidote, and probably this was another quality which he had learned to use by following the example of  Dallapiccola. One cannot survive purely on bravura, however, and Renosto, being a true and at times caustic intellectual, was fully capable of self-criticism.
This intimate contradiction left few visible traces in his scores, yet it can be sensed nonetheless. The scores were written impeccably, yet one felt that his brilliant craftsmanship served to exorcise nihilistic tendencies which troubled him intimately, and which were expressions of a desire for originality which was often rendered inaccessible by the prevailing cultural conformism.

There was however a sort of free zone in which his troubled nature could be at peace with itself- that of opera, in which he revealed moreover a notable theatrical vocation. La camera degli sposi (1972), L'ombra di Banquo (1976) and Le campanule (1981) are the titles of three exquisite little operas which immediately charmed their audiences. In these three theatrical works, the music sustains the action magnificently without trying to impose any particular style or musical novelty: its merit lies in its flexibility and greater congeniality to the theatrical dimension. That which seemed the result of studious application in his instrumental music, seemed entirely spontaneous in Renosto's theatrical works. It must be said, however, that also his more recent instrumental works, such as Nachtblau (mentioned above), Reflex for eleven instruments and the Suite for strings, revealed a more relaxed style. One clearly senses in these works the greater freedom of musical evolution which characterized the late 1970's and which was particularly congenial to Renosto's spiritual development. The desire to be up-to-date had been supplanted by a greater autonomy of musical language. New reference points appeared on the horizon, but unfortunately their potential was never to be fully explored.

Enzo Restagno